During march 2011, Kate Culkin, Assistant Professor of History at Bronx Community College, was the headline speaker for the Larchmont Historical Society’s Women in History Month program. Professor Culkin recently authored Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography (University of Massachusetts Press), which is a fascinating look at 19th Century America’s most notable female sculptor.
Locally, Hosmer is known for her arresting bronze sculpture, The Mermaid’s Cradle, which holds center court in Larchmont’s Fountain Square, just blocks from the Long Island Sound. For whom was the sculpture originally created? Whose face is featured? What is the symbolism of the baby in the tail of the mermaid? What local patron brought this piece to town decades ago? All this and much more will be revealed by Professor Culkin.
Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) was regarded as the nation’s most prominent woman sculptor and was seen as instrumental in promoting women in the field of sculpture. After moving from Boston to Rome in 1852, she was, according to Culkin, the only American woman sculptor working in the city and quickly befriended some of the most notable expatriates of the time, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and fellow sculptors John Gibson and Emma Stebbins. Many female sculptors followed her lead and moved to Rome. She indeed inspired artists of varied disciplines, and Hosmer can be found represented in the works of Nathanial Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, among others.
In her book, Culkin addresses Hosmer’s ability to convey through her sculpture her critique of women’s position in nineteenth-century American culture, women’s rights advocates’ utilizing the arts to promote their cause, the affect Hosmer’s personal relationships with women played in her life and success, and, the complex position a female artist occupied in 19th Century America.
The LHS is pleased to have hosted Professor Culkin for a fascinating and lively discussion on this important woman in both our local and national history.